Andy Sum

Recent Articles

The Economics of Despair

Young adults today earn half of what they would have made 20 years ago. Herewith an explanation, and a prescription, by three labor economists.

S ince the late 1970s, social science researchers, the media, private foundations, and policymakers have directed considerable attention to the labor market problems of young adults and their families. Most of this attention has focused on high school dropouts, the poor, minorities, and inner-city youth. But an equally troubling—and broader—problem has received comparatively less notice: the steep and sustained decline since 1973 in the real (inflation-adjusted) earnings of young men and women generally. Even adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, the labor market problems of young workers are disproportionately severe—they include higher than average unemployment and relatively low earnings when employed. This sustained drop in earnings has been especially dramatic for young adults with no postsecondary school education. Most proposed remedies have emphasized the quality of the labor supply. But improving education and training, while often worthwhile and...